Writing Copy 101: Part II

Last week, I talked about the kinds of things that need to go into your copy. Now that you have a list of words, elements, feelings, and facts that you want to convey, it’s time to start putting it all together. Good copy has several different elements:


The Keynote

This is a single sentence that describes all the most important elements of your book in a very general way, and it should usually be one of the first things readers see.

For The Lord of the Rings it might be something like: “A young hobbit bands together with a group of heroes on an epic quest to destroy a cursed ring and stop a legendary evil in this classic trilogy from the father of modern fantasy literature.” This includes the protagonist (“a young hobbit”), the antagonist (“a legendary evil”), the basic plot (“a quest to destroy a ring”), the feel of the book (“epic” and “classic”), the scope of the book (“a trilogy”), the genre (“fantasy”) and a bit of extra incentive to read it ("from the father of modern fantasy literature”). 

The keynote is always at the top of any catalog copy or web copy we create and should be right up top in any pitch letters. On Swoon Reads, you might put it in the short description, or at the top of your long description.

The Tagline

This is the other part of your “elevator pitch.”  This is a short (one line at the most) bit of text that calls out some key element of the book in a clever way. Your tagline should always match the tone and voice of the book itself… In fact, if there is one line of text that you love, one line that really illustrates one of your favorite parts of the book, you can use it here.

For A Little Something Different, we decided to focus on structure with “Fourteen viewpoints. One love story.” Because that was the thing that we felt really made that book unique.  But for Daughter of the Pirate King (one of my F&F novels), I pulled a line from the book that I felt really illustrated the heroine’s character: “There will be plenty of time for me to beat him soundly once I’ve gotten what I came for.” And for Love, Lies and Spies, we chose to focus a bit more on voice with a take on Cindy’s fabulous chapter openers: “In which plans for a season without romance are unapologetically foiled.”

The tagline can be featured on the cover of the print book, or set off in some kind of bold text on the back or at the top of the flap. It’s meant to draw the reader’s attention and intrigue them enough so that they pick up the book, or keep reading.  While the keynote is meant to be informative, the tagline is meant to grab a reader, and it should be set apart in some way. In our web copy, it’s usually on a line by itself and set in bold, and on Swoon Reads, it should either be in the short description or at the top of your long description (whichever spot isn’t already filled with your keynote).

Body Copy

This is where you actually get into the details about your book, but remember, people have very short attention spans, so you don’t want this to be too long. One or two paragraphs is all. Once again, go back to all those elements you listed earlier. Here is where you pull them together in a way that makes sense and is appealing. And you don’t have to include ALL of them. Just give your readers enough to give them a sense of the book, but make sure to leave enough mystery that they will want to actually read the book itself.

When crafting body copy, I often like to start with the main character, and their goals. This is who the book is about, this is what they want to accomplish. Unfortunately, there are problems that need to be overcome. Will they be able to do it? You’ll have to read the book to find out! But that’s because I’m very character focused. Some books it’s easier to come at it from a different angle: The stakes are high and the main character has a ton of things stacked against them. But they are determined to succeed. Come root for them!

And remember, your body copy should also give readers a feel for the tone of the book itself. If you have a lot of action and the plot moves very quickly, then your summary should be pretty fast as well. But if a lot of the focus of your book is on emotional growth and learning who your main character really is, then that should also be reflected in your body copy. Going back to our Lord of the Rings example, those books have a LOT of traveling, so if I was writing copy for them, I’d probably include a list of cool locations, to illustrate how far they journey. “From the graceful elven city of Rivendell, through the deadly mines of Moria, across the windswept plains of Rohan, etc.” It all depends on what your book is about.

Praise

This is where you list a couple of the books most important quotes or awards. Not every book is going to have something here, and that’s okay. But if people have been saying nice things about your book, or if it has won awards, then you should let people know. Usually you only want to include a couple of things here (we usually aim for 3 or 4 quotes for Swoon Reads titles)… again, people have short attention spans. And you don’t need to include the whole review (there’s probably not going to be enough space anyway). Just grab the best line. 

Author Bio

Agents, editors, reviewers, booksellers, and readers are all going to be curious about who exactly wrote the book, so you should ALWAYS include at least a sentence or two about the author in any set of copy. Generally a good author bio should include:

• The author’s first and last name

• A few key facts, like the school they went to (if you are still in high school you don’t have to be specific, just say that you are still in high school) or their current day job

• Any relevant experience, like if they are a librarian, teacher, or bookseller or if they wrote a book set in a hospital and was a nurse for the past ten years or if it is an Own Voices novel

• Where they live (not their specific address, but just a general city or geographic area): in NYC, just outside LA, in the Australian Outback, in a small town in Wisconsin

• The name of at least one book they have written

• A fun line that illustrates their personality: They love playing video games, or going to Broadway Musicals, or eating breakfast cereal for dinner

• And where they can be found online: a website or Twitter handle or other social media account


I know that this feels like a lot, but hopefully it will be helpful the next time you need to pitch a book to an agent, editor, or you know, the Swoon Reads community! 

Let us know if you have any questions, about this topic or any other publishing related thing, and I’ll do my best to answer them!

About the author - Holly West

Editor, Feiwel & Friends and Swoon Reads. After growing up in a small town in Southern Kentucky as "that girl ...

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4 comments on "Writing Copy 101: Part II"

RB Frank on April 16, 2017, 8:03 a.m. said:

RB Frank


Thanks, Holly, for this article. I excited to see I'm on point with these and one less thing for me to do!

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Michael.Stewart on April 12, 2017, 12:14 p.m. said:

Michael.Stewart


This is really, REALLY fantastic. I do have one quick question: Are you allowed to use comparables in your copy? I know you can't copyright a title, but it still seems off. For example in my tagline on SR, I say: The Breakfast Club meets Grimm's Fairy Tales in the lair of an adolescent psych ward. Can I use 'The Breakfast Club' IRL?

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Holly West on April 12, 2017, 4:58 p.m. said:

Holly West


Hi Michael,

That's a really great question with a tricky answer. On the one hand a comparison like that X meets X is a great marketing hook. For example, I have a chapter book series that is "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" meets "Jurassic Park." It's a quick and easy pitch. That said, you need to be careful what comps you use.

In publishing, there are certain books and series that are so popular we aren't allowed to compare things to them anymore, because it sounds like hyperbole which can even sometimes turn people off. And we try not to actually reference specific books by other authors in our webcopy, because some vendors, like Amazon, have issues with it messing up their search results. Here at Swoon Reads, it's not an issue, but in some other places it might be, and I always like to standardize my copy as much as possible.

So I would be careful referencing other books in your copy, especially those that might be considered competitors. But as I understand it, comparing a book to a movie or TV show or other form of media is generally okay.

But if something seems off about it to you, then I would err on the side of safety and avoid it! Always better to avoid any potential troubles if you can. :-)

Hope that helped!

Best,
Holly

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Michael.Stewart on April 12, 2017, 7:27 p.m. said:

Michael.Stewart


Thanks for your response, Holly! Very helpful to me. :)

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